The hidden condition that could cripple women in your workforce

Stuck at home, I increasingly felt like my brain had erected a wall between itself and my laptop. I forgot the basic tasks; I left deadlines to the last minute; I struggled to speak during zoom calls; I had panic attacks during the work day, all the time, never daring to tell my boss.

With no means for stimulation from the outside world, like so many others, I sought solace via TikTok and one day came across a series of videos from the creator DanDonavan. His descriptions of his experiences spoke to me like no therapist ever had before. Suddenly I discovered I wasn’t alone.

“So many of us have felt lonely our entire lives and we’ve felt isolated and we’ve felt like we can’t talk about it,” Donavan told Fortune. “We shouldn’t have talked about it and nobody wants to hear it. They were just excuses.

Donavan, who has over 600,000 TikTok followers and over 12.6 million likes on his videos, uses his platform to express the impact of ADHD on his life and gives advice on everything from getting a diagnosis to ‘use post-its around the house so you don’t leave without your keys.


How many of these sound like you? 🤔 #adhd #adhdtiktok #adhdindonne #adhdcheck #adhdsquad #adhdprobs #adhdtok #messy

♬ original sound – Dani Donovan

Among his more popular videos are lists of traits that most don’t realize may be related to ADHD, including problems with auditory processing, trouble sleeping, or forgetting that things exist when they aren’t immediately confronted with you.

“ADHD isn’t just about attention issues,” Donavan says in a video — a fact that has evidently sparked life-changing realizations for countless viewers, myself included.

Once I was diagnosed, it was like a curtain went up and I suddenly understood how and why I felt and acted the way I have acted my whole life. Now I could find coping mechanisms that actually worked.

Women are still underdiagnosed

Diagnosis rates in women in particular have soared in recent years, worldwide, as research has progressed. While post-pandemic statistics are limited, the trend is clear. In 2018, the CDC reported a 344% increase in women seeking ADHD medications, while Google searches in the United States relative to ADHD in women more than doubled between March 2021 and March 2022.

Despite the latest increase, a gender gap remains. Men are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women. There’s no gender bias, it’s just harder to spot.

ADHD was first diagnosed in young white boys, with diagnosis guidelines relying largely on hyperactivity, which is still a bit of a stereotype: It’s hard not to imagine a restless child distracting classmates or runs amok in a schoolyard.

Women and girls, on the other hand, are often diagnosed later in life, and more commonly with the inattentive form of ADHD where the symptoms are more internal and any struggles may be invisible or are simply brushed aside, even by medical professionals, such as anxiety or depression.

Women are also more likely to “mask” their symptoms in an effort to conform to society’s social and behavioral rules. For many, hiding their systems is a coping mechanism learned over years of living without a diagnosis.

In the workplace

The workplace is where many women with ADHD struggle the most, whether it’s trying to work the same way as their neurotypical coworkers, navigating the social scene, living up to corporate expectations, or, in particular, to find the confidence to ask for help.

When I told my employer at the time of diagnosis, my relief and excitement was short-lived. I felt misunderstood and received a lack of sympathy on days when I struggled to keep up with my neurotypical peers.

I wasn’t alone in this either.

“I was always getting into trouble at work. Even though I was meeting my deadlines,” Donavan said, adding that she was criticized for taking time to respond to emails, talking too much, or forgetting to deliver her timesheet on time.

I was overwhelmed with the responses when I asked other neurodivergent women to continue Chirping for stories of their own work experiences. A common factor throughout their stories was that they had struggled more when they masked, had kept their struggles private, and continued to fight, often finding success in their careers but sacrificing their mental well-being in the process.

“I’ve pushed myself to the breaking point to succeed in a workplace designed exclusively for neurotypical people, and I’ve done extremely well. But I was exhausted and miserable,” said Allegra Chapman, who runs a diversity and inclusion business.

“I have built a career in public relations, working all over the world for five star hotels, restaurants, bars, celebrities etc. To my family and friends, my career has seemed successful and glamorous. For me it was a daily struggle with myself, with procrastination, doubt, masking and expecting to be discovered at any moment as a fraud,” said Maria Dakova.

Several women told me that masking up and forcing yourself to work a certain way was not sustainable, often leading to burnout and decreased productivity in the long run. For some, self-employment has been the answer, allowing them the freedom to work in a way that suits them.

Other women, however, found positive relationships with employers that ultimately helped them thrive both personally and as employees.

How can workplaces accommodate neurodivergent people?

“Simply starting the conversation, talking about autism and ADHD and understanding the benefits of a neurodivergent workforce, opens up their business, reduces stigma and fear, and enables them to better support all of their people,” says Hester Grainger , co-founder of Perfectly autistica UK-based neurodiversity consultancy.

Instead of suffering in silence and potentially burning out, employees should feel able to stand up to their condition without fear of bias or backlash. This is where employers and employees can understand how that person works best and adjust the workday accordingly.

Little things can have a big impact, said TikToker Donavan, who recalled how a former manager set up chance encounters with vague subjects like “quick talk,” triggering anxious thoughts and fears of being in trouble. Emotional dysregulation is a common trait. . By simply asking his manager to add a little context each time, he alleviated an issue that had previously impacted his work.

“I have weekly meetings with line managers where we talk about any pain points or problems,” says Sartika Thatcher, a public relations consultant, who explained how small adjustments have made a big difference in her workplace.

“We also talked, right from the start, about how I like to work and how we can best work together… They also allowed me to try and change some broader ways of working to streamline or consolidate processes.”

It’s not just beneficial to the individual. “Most people think of it as a ‘nice thing to do,’ but it’s so much more: It’s a business decision,” says neurodiversity consultant Rachel Morgan-Trimmer.

“All the studies on neurodiversity at work point to the same thing, which is that inclusive companies are more innovative and productive and generate more revenue,” he added.

To further drive the point home, an estimated 4.4% of US adults and 9.4% of US children have ADHD. All over the world the prevalence of ADHD in adults it is estimated at 2.5%. Since these figures are based on known diagnoses, the true prevalence is certainly even higher.

“Many companies are now realizing that neurodiversity is an extremely important topic,” Grainger pointed out.

“Every company has a neurodiverse workforce, whether they know it or not.”